Note: Oak Ridge Mayor Warren Gooch gave an update on positive developments and challenges during a talk to the League of Women Voters of Oak Ridge on Tuesday, May 5. Here is a lightly edited version of his remarks, which organized the positive developments and challenges into sections. Gooch was appointed mayor by the seven-member Oak Ridge City Council on November 24. This is his first four-year term on the City Council.
It is a distinct privilege for me to serve as your mayor, but I always preface my remarks by saying that I am not speaking today for Council or for the city manager. I have one vote on Council, but I do consider myself to be the chairman of the board of directors for the city.
In that capacity, as I enter my sixth month of service as mayor, I want to share my thoughts about positive developments in our city, discuss near-term challenges that we face, share the results that I have from the community survey that I have been conducting, and leave time for your questions and comments.
First. My number one priority for our community is the successful development of Main Street Oak Ridge (which would redevelop the former Oak Ridge Mall), and it is moving forward. Last week, Crosland Southeast announced that MDC Development Group of Atlanta will be the hotel developer for the project. MDC is also a major developer in the senior housing industry and 15 months ago opened Canterfield Oak Ridge Assisted Living. It has been very successful and well-received in our community.
I was advised yesterday (Monday, May 4) that the retail leasing component of the Main Street project is moving forward, as are the negotiations with a developer for the multi-family housing component of the Main Street project. Groundbreaking and demolition for Main Street is on schedule to begin by June 30.
I have great confidence in Crosland, and I appreciate their commitment to our city to make this project a reality.
As I have stated on several occasions, the current mall property is a black hole in the middle of our city that we have been trying to fill for the last 20 years. Main Street will be the catalyst for a dynamic and revitalized downtown. It will enhance the image of our city for years to come.
See a zoomed-out version of the plan below and a link to a PDF version, which you should be able to enlarge and zoom in on, here: Main Street Oak Ridge Site Plan April 16, 2015.
Second. The March announcement that CVMR’s world headquarters is relocating to Oak Ridge adds to the distinction of our community as a place of innovation and advanced composite discoveries for the world. As we diversify our economy for additive manufacturing, CVMR is at the center of the world of 3-D printing and advanced metallurgy. The new facility will result in 600 jobs and $300 million of capital investment.
CVMR is a world leader in the manufacture of metal powders used in the aerospace, energy, automotive, and medical instrument manufacturing industries where pure metals and their special alloys result in high-performance equipment. It refines metals using its proprietary processes and technologies and manufactures a variety of high-purity metal powders, coatings, and super alloys.
A large portion of the Oak Ridge plant will be dedicated to the production of metal powders used in 3-D printing (additive manufacturing) and producing graphene for advanced products.
I hope you have the opportunity in the near future to meet Mike Hargett, the CVMR-USA president. Mike is a native of western North Carolina and lives on the Hargett family farm just outside Asheville. Mike has been employed with CVMR for over 25 years, and I know you are going to like him.
I am also confident that going forward, CVMR is going to be an anchor in our reindustrialization efforts, a magnet for other companies seeking to relocate in close to proximity to CVMR, and most importantly, an outstanding corporate citizen for Oak Ridge.
Third. Oak Ridge has received national and international attention as a result of:
- the CVMR announcement;
- the popularity and success of “The Girls of Atomic City”;
- the visit of the president and vice president to advocate for a national free college tuition plan modeled after Governor Haslam’s Tennessee Promise Plan, which is already in place in Tennessee. Their visit showcased our community colleges, as well as our 3-D manufacturing facilities; and
- the recent film premiere of “Alvin Weinberg.”
The positive media attention generated from these four items gives us a tremendous opportunity to promote Oak Ridge as a great place to live, work, play, and raise a family. Our quality of life, the quality of our public schools and our community colleges, the quality of our city services, our cultural diversity and the importance of the U.S. Department of Energy missions that are performed here is unique for a city of 30,000 residents.
Fourth. The new Powerhouse Six Solar One Megawatt Array project is helping to diversify the city’s economy by enhancing the reindustrialization of the former K-25 site into productive reuse.
The project supports the goals of the city’s Climate Action Plan by helping achieve the reduction of greenhouse gases through energy diversity. The project also helps support the city’s designation by the Tennessee Valley Authority as a Platinum Sustainability Community and also the recent designation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a Green Power Partner.
There are not many cities the size of Oak Ridge that have gained the attention for its focus on sustainability and investment in green power. These designations are attractive to private investors, as they see our commitment to carbon reduction and sustainable energy.
Fifth. The Oak Ridge airport project, which will be located at the East Tennessee Technology Park, is moving forward. The Knoxville Airport Authority has received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration for inclusion of the Oak Ridge airport in the national program of integrated airport systems.
Combined with DOE’s initial agreement to move forward with transfer of property at the East Tennessee Technology Park, two of the projects’ three major near-term goals have been accomplished.
The third will be approval and funding of the master plan from the Tennessee Aeronautics Commission.
The proposed airport will be a major asset to our community. I believe that Oak Ridge is the only city of its size in Tennessee that does not have an airport.
Sixth. The City Council and the Board of Education are working closely together as we move forward with the adoption of the Fiscal Year 2016 budget and to reach a long-term solution for the need for a new preschool. The two bodies have formed a special preschool committee, and the group is hard at work. I am confident that the committee’s recommendation, which will come later this year, will present a proposal that is in the best interest of our children, financially responsible, and consistent with out commitment to excellence in education.
In the short term, Council has approved funding for the remediation of the lead paint on the outside of the building, and that work will be performed this summer.
Seventh. The Manhattan Project National Historical Park can be a game-changer for our city. It can be a potential gold mine for heritage tourism because of our Manhattan Project history, our Cold War history, and the many innovations and inventions that have taken place over the last 70 years in our city.
The passage of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park bill has added urgency to our efforts to have the park headquarters located in Oak Ridge. Benefits from the park being located in Oak Ridge will bring a boost to the local economy; it will bring national and international attention to Oak Ridge.
It is important for you to know that the competition for the park headquarters is intense. Hanford, Washington, and Los Alamos, New Mexico, are competing with us. Many individuals and organizations are working hard to help us win this competition. The March site visit by DOE and National Park Service officials was very positive for our case.
I serve on the Great Smoky Mountains Park Commission, and as many of you know, Cassius Cash has been named the new superintendent of the park. Superintendent Cash comes to us from Boston, where he managed the national park in and around the historic district of Boston. At our April Park Commission meeting, I invited Superintendent Cash to visit Oak ridge. I am pleased to report that he and senior members of his staff will be in Oak Ridge tomorrow afternoon (Wednesday, May 6) to tour the DOE sites and other community sites that could be included in the park.
We expect other visits from officials in the National Park Service over the next few weeks.
Each of these visits provides an opportunity for us to convince the Park Service that, for many reasons, Oak Ridge is a clear choice for the headquarters of the Manhattan Project National Park, which will showcase our proud legacy, a vibrant present, and a bright future for our historic landmarks.
Challenges in the Near Term
1) Council must get the review of the Oak Ridge Police Department started and see it through to completion. Council will be meeting later today (Tuesday, May 5) in a work session to discuss the status of the professional services agreement with Municipal Technical Advisory Service. It is important for the community, our men and women in the Police Department, and Chief Jim Akagi that this review be completed as soon as it is reasonably possible to do so.
2) Second, Council must carefully review the Community Impact Assessment of the Department of Energy’s proposed Environmental Management Disposal Facility. The draft report, which has been prepared by The Ferguson Group of Washington, D.C., will be discussed by Carl Kalbacher, the project manager for The Ferguson Group, this Friday, May 8, in a special work session.
As I stated at the DOE Environmental Management budget conference last week: “The seven members of City Council are elected citywide, not from individual districts. This means that every member, including myself, will have a citywide view of what is in our city’s best interest and will be an advocate for it…Of all the DOE programs in our community, EM is the one in which we all have a common interest. We must communicate and understand each other’s challenges and points of view, and support one another, in order to complete the cleanup of the Oak Ridge Reservation.”
3) The third near-term challenge is adopting the Fiscal Year 2016 budget. The city manager is hard at work in preparing the budget, and I know that he and (Superintendent Bruce) Borchers are meeting on a weekly basis to discuss this subject.
As you know, this is a reappraisal year for residential and commercial property. Because our city is in two counties, we must have the final reappraisals from both the Anderson County and Roane County property assessor’s offices. The Anderson County reappraisal is completed, but unfortunately, the Roane County reappraisal is not completed, and there is no clear timeline for when it will be completed.
One thing is clear, however: The overall appraised value of residential property in the Anderson County portion of the city is down approximately 6 percent. The value of commercial property, according to published reports, has increased slightly by 1 percent. This is the first time that anyone can remember when the county’s property values have dropped in a reappraisal cycle.
We have no information today regarding property values in the Roane County portion of the city. When the Roane County reappraisal is completed, we will receive a new certified tax rate from the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office, and our current property tax rate of $2.39 will be adjusted upward to produce the same overall property tax revenue in 2016 as we had in 2015.
The anticipated change for the Oak Ridge, Anderson County property tax rate is projected to be increased in the range of 4 to 7 cents. I will use our home as an example. The reappraised value of my home increased $2,000, which means in 2016, we will have a property tax increase, regardless of whether Council raises or does not raise property taxes for 2016.
If your property has increased in value, remained the same, or decreased at a rate less than the overall percentage decrease in property values, you will be paying more property tax in 2016. If your house has lost value at the same or greater percentage than the overall average reduction of property values, your property tax for 2016 will be less than your 2015 property tax. The 2016 fiscal year starts on July 1.
4) Finally, the city must have the renovations of Jackson Square substantially completed by the third weekend in June to ensure that the Lavender Festival is not interrupted and the normal business operations of our Jackson Square merchants can return to normal.
In closing, let me say that these are exciting, but challenging times for our city. However, I am reminded of what President John Kennedy said: “We sometimes chafe at the burden of our obligations, the complexity of our decisions, the agony of our choices. But there is no comfort or security for us in evasion, no solution in abdication, no relief in irresponsibility.
“Change is the law of life, and those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future.”
I believe President Kennedy’s words are directly applicable to us today. This is our time, and this is our opportunity to move Oak Ridge forward.
On behalf of our city, I ask for your advice, your help, and your support for Oak Ridge, where great things happen every day.